Alberta is a hive of exciting and interesting research activity that is a benefit to agriculture and society. From bees to bovines, we employ world-class scientists who work with enthusiastic producer groups.
Livestock (under the federal definition) includes bees, and the National Bee Diagnostic Centre is in Alberta, a partnership between the Grande Prairie Regional College and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada in Beaverlodge.
What happens at a diagnostic centre? In Beaverlodge, scientists accept samples from across Canada and use techniques such as microscopy, microbiology, and molecular science to find the ailments of the honeybee. This could include bacteria, mites, fungi, or viruses that would shorten the life of the bee or impact fertility or honey production. Alberta is a world-class producer of clean honey and hosted 305,000 honeybee colonies last year that produced more than 38 million pounds of honey.
The University of Alberta is home to the Poultry Research Centre, which is a hub for study that encompasses production, environment, food safety, and economics along with value-added goods. How about an anti-aging cream made from chicken skin? All things are possible but the centre is also a communication channel for consumers to ask questions, buy a heritage bird from the breeding program, and for information that backyard growers need to keep their birds healthy and productive.
At the Swine Research and Technology Centre, also housed at the University of Alberta, scientists are rooting around for answers on a large platform of issues from fertility to production; nutrition; and feeds and feeding as well as the exciting study of genomics. Genomics can best be described as taking a peek at the entire DNA of one cell that is within an organism. Why is this important? As production practices plateau, science can turn to DNA, and by uncovering its secrets, create new advances.
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Animal welfare is always a priority and the University of Calgary leads the way in this province with research through the College of Veterinary Medicine on all animal welfare issues, with a special emphasis on pain and pain management. Researchers from the college are drilling down in many areas of reproductive health (in horses, wildlife, livestock, and even humans), genomics, regenerative medicine, and infectious biology. Research teams are looking at outstanding issues in dairy including mastitis, Johne’s disease, laminitis (lameness), and infertility.
Laminitis is also a common problem in feedlots and can be costly in terms of production. Researchers at the veterinary college are diligent in looking at what is at foot and how this problem can be mitigated.
At the University of Lethbridge, agricultural biotechnology is a strong focus and much of the research is dedicated to food crops such as oilseeds, cereals, and potatoes. With vast irrigated lands around the university, water issues are also part of the research focus. The work being done at the college in ruminant microbiology is outstanding and this information helps producers understand a healthy balance when feeding cattle.
Research for sheep is shared across Alberta universities. It would appear that this area could use more attention considering the demand for lamb and the opportunity for beginning farmers.
Olds College is very collaborative in its research approach (through the Olds College Centre for Innovation) and its labs have a focus on ingredients and quality control as well as microprocessing and applied microbiology. To benefit livestock producers, there is the Natural Fibre Centre and the National Meat Training Centre. Composting and wetland research are also two areas that closely tie in with food animal agriculture.
At Lakeland College, the areas of applied research include energy, environmental science, and emergency services along with agricultural sciences. Its research in the area of energy could have significant impact on production costs.
There are also applied research bodies, most under the Agriculture Research Extension Council of Alberta. They have a strong focus on both crops and forages in areas such as soil health, animal health and productivity. These are producer-run or guided bodies that co-operate with researchers based at different universities and research stations throughout the province.
Lacombe Research and Development Centre has been the flagship for beef animal and related research in central Alberta with producer groups in the south collaborating with the Lethbridge Research Centre.
Partnerships are also ever evolving to preserve research in the province and an example is the transfer of the Onefour research station into the Rangeland Research Institute, keeping the research near and relevant to the livestock producers who use the information it generates.
In addition, provincial and private labs, private research companies, and research funding groups reside in the province.
This is a tiny taste of research in the livestock sector in Alberta. It is far from complete but does give a peek into what’s possible through research and development, which is an important part in our competitive advantage.